Posted on June 28, 2015
Where is God’s presence, How are we to long for it, How much of it should we expect, and How much are we to be it for one another?
I have been thinking alot about these ideas through some ideas that have been recently popularised in John Waltons book, The Lost world of Genesis One1, which seeks to recover how ancient near middle eastern readers (or hearers) would have understood the story.
Walton explains how the garden of eden and more widely the creation of the cosmos follows patterns of other creation stories in the near East. The Genesis account describes the garden in ways the original hearers would have understood as at once and temple and a palace.
In ancient near eastern cultures humans created material idols, and placed them in a garden which was their ‘kingly’ seating and the temple at which people encountered their presence. What followed after the idol building phase was what was called a ‘spiritation’ ceremony, literally an in-Spirit-ing where the priest of the given idol would finalise the ceremony by breathing onto the idol to give it life. Remind you of anything?
Whatever else we want to argue that the creation story is, be it factual, literal, symbolic, allegorical it is clear the ancient hearers would have heard this story as at once familiar to other stories but also turning what would be expected around in ways that opened their eyes to both who God is and who they were.
Walton says we are then God’s idols, or more specifically vice-regents. Now these are unfamiliar terms but they are new words to help us understand more fully that we are, as was in common evangelical parlance a couple of decades ago, God’s ambassadors.
Think about an ambassdaor for a moment..what comes to mind?
- They represent the authority they come in the name of,
- They carry themselves with the dignity of their title,
- Where ever they are, is in effect, the presence of the authority (in our case the person of Jesus Christ) they carry.
You can see this in action movies; someone is running from the police in foreign nation and in the final moments they leap over the line into their own nation’s consulate and they are suddenly on ‘safe soil’. Diplomatically countries agree to consider the grounds of an embassy equivalent to the country it represents.
This is God’s intention, that we are His ambassadors, that we are the place that His rule and presence are found on earth. But is this the way we think about God’s presence most of the time?
I come from a Christian tradition that is considered third-wave charismatic (although many within it would never identify with that particular phrasing), it basically means, more charismatic than pentecostal, more evangelical than fundamentalist, more apostolic-prophetic than presbyterian or episcopal. As a movement we emphasise the power and presence of God, often in worship/prayer type gatherings. The general understanding is that in these places of encounter we immerse ourselves in the reality of the Spirit 2 in order to be carriers of the presence of God into the places we spend the rest of our days.
There is a great deal to be thankful for within this tradition, but it’s cons are that often by locating the presence of God somewhere, we can subconciously lose the sense that He is everywhere. By encountering God in Spirit we can underplay His presence in Flesh. By embracing His invisiblity we can underplay His hands and feet.
In the same way as God’s original desire in the garden was to have ambassadors, who not only came in the name of God, but actually manifest the very presence of God where they were, so too was this His desire in Israel. A people who would be for the nations a sign, a wonder, a representation. Then later the Church is called to be the same thing. There are many moments when both Israel and the Church seem to fall woefully short of that representation, so short that we think, God must have another plan. We are tempted to (especially those in my own tradition) think that God will come like the cloud of the Old Testament or the still small voice in the dead of the night, but God has resigned Himself, or more rightly, delighted Himself to be known through His body, the Church. Not to deny that there is a still small voice, or that His presence could manifest as a cloud, but those are not his grand salvation plan for the Earth, His People are.
Some dear friends of ours have found themselves in South Africa in the midst of some family health issues and we have been able to visit them in the last week or so. In some ways I think it has ministered to us both, and I’ve been thinking about this idea, traditionally (and sometimes in a tired-way) referred to as fellowship. We have mediated the very presence of Christ to one another, in our very ordinary flesh and blood presence, we have been the manifest grace of God to encourage and sustain one another, we have been the love of God by binding wounds and ministering peace.
I won’t be backing down from crying out with the Church one of it’s most ancient prayers; “Come, Holy Spirit”, but neither will I back down from sitting with friend who have been in-Spirited, and blessing the Lord for His presence manifest through theirs.
- If you don’t have time to read the whole book, this is a good interview following his more recent book which follow some similar ideas and a podcast which will cover the main ideas. ↩
- which catches us into the trinitarian fellowship itself, namely including us in the Son and thus restoring relationship to the Father. ↩
I’m a serial early-adopter, which basically means that if there is an interesting service online with a queue for trial testers, and enough buzz around the tech world, I’m probably on the beta list.
For the last 12 months, I’ve been thinking about podcasting. I was involved in a study program that brought some great thinkers and speakers to south Africa and there were always people that were not in the room that I thought would have loved to have been. Secondly I always find myself in scenarios where a speaker is being introduced and facilitated having an imagined alternative of how I might have introduced or facilitated them differently; different questions and nuances I might have picked up on.
So, in my mind hosting a podcast would be the perfect coming together of these two things. Both being able to guide the direction of discussion with interesting people and simultaneously sharing with those not in the room.
Here’s my only problem with podcasting…time.
I can rarely find enough time to listen to a 30-60min podcast, never mind the idea of recording and producing one.
And this is why I am excited about Spoken
Spoken promises to be the audio version of instagram, short edible moments of audio which are as easy to listen to as they are to record.
They have already got some great little recordings up there.
So instead of diving into the deep waters of podcasting I’m thinking of taking up spoken.co
Obviously, being a new release there are very few features so far. I’d love to see an embed option similar to something like soundcloud, and for there to be a good quality in-built recorder rather than only having the option to upload a file.
Keep an eye and sign up here
What a strange old book it was. How oddly holiness situated itself among the things of the world, how endlessly creation wrenched and strained under the burden of its own significance. “I will open my mouth in a… Read More
I am not a person (by nature 1) who enjoys repetition. In fact, I thrive on changing circumstances. This has slowly shifted the older I get, but when I had a ‘sit-down-at-a-desk’ type job, I had to fill out the same reports first thing every morning. It was the worst part of my day.
Winter has just begun in South Africa, we are experiencing cold for the fist time in a house we moved into in the middle of summer. Every morning I am pushing myself through the cold air in the house and I do the same thing every morning. Run into the lounge and start a fire 2, and then turn on the kettle for some coffee.
Over 4 or so winters in South Africa, Do you know what I am pretty good at?
Making Fires and cups of coffee.
You sent your Word to bring us truth
and your Spirit to make us holy.
Through them we come to know the mystery of your life.
Help us to worship you, one God in three persons,
You reveal yourself in the depths of our being,
by proclaiming and living our faith in you.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen
Over the past two years Isaac has been one of my favourite people to eat, drink, think and pray alongside. His family have intentionally developed their meal table as a space to recognise the worth of Jesus, one another and the many guests they have. I asked him to write a little on what he is learning about spiritual formation and the deep connection to meal times. – Liam
I was recently listening to an audio recording of John Ortburg and Dallas Willard at a “Knowing Christ Today” conference in Santa Barbara, California. This recording is, in my opinion, one of the best teachings on discipleship I have ever heard in one compilation. Willard is a man who has given his life to the study and application of spiritual formation. Toward the end of the conference, Ortburg asks Willard a question. I can hear a certain desperation in his voice as he is a pastor and author who has also devoted his life to the idea that real discipleship can and should be happening in the church. We should look different as kingdom people.
Ortburg asks Dallas, and I paraphrase slightly, “How do we do this in a way that actually works? There are people in this room from common areas. We have all have had the experience where in a city there may be an interfaith council or gathering of pastors for prayer. This is a good idea but doesn’t have the kind of life to it that we need. It can become one more obligation to schedules that are full, rather than a life-bringing thing.” The answer Dallas gives is:
“We arrange our time together where we are actually sharing what is going on in our souls and we don’t just spend our time talking about community affairs, ecumenical efforts or comparisons between churches. You have to arrange your time where people are exchanging ‘soul work’, what is going on in them, and they are sharing their experience of the presence of Christ in their lives”
I have recently been working on a thesis project where I am exploring a deeper understanding of the Eucharist and how Jesus used meal-time as a place of discipleship. I have been learning how the “communion meal” was an actual full meal called an “agape” or “love feast” with the Eucharist bread being broken and shared before the meal, and the cup of wine passed around and shared at the end of the meal. I have a friend who often says, “When your newest tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So with that as a disclaimer, I will go on to say: If I had been at the conference, I don’t know how I would have kept myself from speaking up. In the full seven-hour conference on Christian formation, the communion meal, or Eucharist, was not mentioned once as a means of spiritual formation. A teaching on discipleship by some of our best teachers that doesn’t mention the table as a place of discipleship should indicate just how much we have lost the practice and importance of this sacrament.
Jesus left us with a certain kind of a meal as the center of our times when we come together. This meal was to be marked by the participants awareness that He was present at the table. It was an actual meal at an actual table that would culminate in an act everybody would participate in. Bread broken and eaten, a glass of wine shared. It was not what was said that was important but what was done.
In the early church, any person could sit through a church teaching, but when it came time to break bread, all non-believers would be asked to leave. It was not listening to Christ’s teaching that marked you as a Christian, it was participating in a communion meal which set you apart as a believer and earned you the death penalty if caught. Many were martyred in the persecuted church for confessing to eating the Eucharist meal. To participate under the threat of death shows just how serious they took this.
Jesus often chose the table as a place of discipleship. A full five chapters of teaching (John 13-17) was most likely done at the last supper where he gave us the Eucharist act. I like to think his prayer, “…they would be one as we are one…” (John 17), was offered with the bread and wine. He would often stop in the middle of a meal for a surprising illustrated lesson such as his impromptu foot washing in Johns last supper account, maybe in response to an argument they just had about who would be greatest. (Luke 22)
For at least the first 100 years, the church would practice Eucharist during an actual meal called a “love feast” or “agape meal”. Slowly, toward the end of the first century, the love feast and Eucharist, the taking of bread and wine, became separate acts, although both continued to be practiced. This could have been a result of persecution, as the Eucharist act was easier to perform without notice in comparison to a full meal. Slowly, over the last two centuries, the church has largely lost the practice of “agape” meals. I believe the modern church, in losing the “Agape”, has also lost the full understanding of the Eucharist and the importance of an awareness Holy Spirit and the person with us, Is there any wonder so many are sick and dying among us? Paul’s question to the church of Corinth really hits home today
When I sit at any table with an awareness of Christ as the host, I will naturally become more aware of others. The “soul conversations” that Dallas speaks of are a natural outflow of this kind of gathering. Like any spiritual discipline, the Eucharist act is not an end in itself but will bring about actual transformation in my awareness of my own self, others and Christ being present.
What could happen if I take the teaching of Jesus seriously and began to practice the kind of meal he desired: Christ present, the lame, sick and poor present (at least sometimes), diverse, hospitable, generous, joyful, an unhurried time of sharing food and my life with others? The next meal you sit at, consciously make Jesus the host. Wait until everybody is seated before starting to eat. Have a meaningful conversation with everybody present. Ask open ended questions and really listen to the others. Slowing our eating and tasting each bite with thankfulness can change any mealtime.
The simplicity of these acts lull us into thinking they are unnecessary, but I am challenging myself to participate more often at this kind of table.